War in the East 1941: What ifs?

By Rob Morgan

After a swift excursion to Stalingrad via Anthony Beevor’s excellent book, I dipped in to John Erickson’s great work “The Road to Stalingrad, kept my snow boots on and now I’m deep into it. Page 295 describes discussions between Winston and the Stalin. It offers a couple of ‘what if?’ wargame scenarios, and neither has a straightforward outcome.

In Autumn 1941, the British intended to send two infantry divisions, the 18th and 50th, into the Caucasus, in support of Soviet forces, and themselves supported by 8-10 RAF squadrons! There’s a decent prospect of action in this. The British had, of course, ventured into that part of the world after WWI, The Transcaspian Episode, as it was known. The assistance was intended to support the Red Army’s Spring Offensives. A drop in the ocean of manpower for the Soviets, but for the British a substantial commitment. Questions of kit, of mountains and weather come to mind! Fortunately for the men of the 50th division, the Japanese attack in December 1941 ended the idea. The 18th were less fortunate, going into the bag at Singapore in 1942.

There was also ‘on the table’ a more tangible plan. A joint attack on Petsamo and Kirkenes, in the north of Finland, supported by the Royal Navy. This, as a raid, or perhaps as a longer term occupation would have more going for it, and might also make a very decent wargame. If the peninsula could be held, then it would provide a base for destructive raids down the Norwegian coast. These were waters well known to the Royal Navy in and after World War I, and the Commandos would have been ideal for the raids and assaults.

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